Scientists puzzled by flesh-eating ‘vulture bees’ that have evolved a taste for meat

- Advertisement -

Some bees have now evolved the ability to eat only flesh because of “intensified competition for nectar” and an evolved gut that resembles that of vultures rather than other bees, a new study has revealed.

- Advertisement -

These adaptations in a little-known species of tropical stingless bees or “vulture bees” are also complemented by changes in the types of bacteria that live in their throats, reported researchers from a study published Tuesday in the journal MBO, which sheds light on the diet. How does it affect the gut microbes?

While bees typically feed on nectar, researchers including researchers at the University of California (UC) Riverside noted that “intense competition for nectar” prompted a species of stingless bee in the tropics to evolve the ability to eat meat. Is.


“These are the only bees in the world that have not evolved to use food sources produced by plants, which is a marked change in dietary habits,” UC Riverside entomologist Doug Yanega said in a statement.

Typically, bees, bumblebees, and stingless bees have guts that are colonized by the same five main microbes, most of which have been maintained over nearly 80 million years of evolution.

- Advertisement -

In these tropical bees, however, many of the ancestral “core” microbes have been lost, while some have been retained, the researchers reported.

Bees have also entered into “novel associations” with certain acid-loving microbes, which have similarly been found in vultures and other animals that eat dead remains.

“This research expands our understanding of how diet interacts with microbes on both short and long timescales in one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots,” the scientists wrote in the study.

To capture these bees for the study, the researchers first set up a bait made from fresh pieces of raw chicken suspended from branches and sprayed with petroleum jelly to deter the ants.

These traps attracted vulture bees as well as related species that opportunistically eat meat for their protein.

While stingless bees typically have baskets on their hind legs to collect pollen, scientists observed that vulture bees used the same structures to collect meat forage.

They then compared the gut bacteria found in vulture bees to other stingless bees that eat both flesh and flowers and those that feed only on pollen. The most extreme changes were found exclusively in flesh-eating bees.

“The vulture bee microbiome is rich in acid-loving bacteria, which are novel bacteria that their relatives do not have,” said study co-author Quinn McFredrick.

“These bacteria are similar to those found in real vultures as well as hyenas and other carrion-feeders, possibly to help protect them from pathogens that appear on carrion,” Dr. McFredrick said.

They found that vulture bees carry the gut bacteria Lactobacillus – found in fermented food, such as citrus – and Carnobacterium, which is associated with the digestion of meat.

However, scientists also suspect that these bees may have been acquiring microbes, such as a. micheneri, They eat rotten meat.

They also called for further study to determine whether the bees’ flesh-eating lifestyle influenced the evolution of these microbes, or if bacteria were what enabled the diet.

“It is important to note that while the microbiome could have been modified by a change in diet, it is also possible that the change in the microbiome enabled dietary lifestyle changes, or even that changes in the microbiome and diet Changes in the two were linked. This is a distinct unmeasured event in the evolutionary history of these unique bees,” the study said.

“It’s crazy to me that a bee can eat carcasses. We can get sick from it because all the microbes on the flesh compete with each other and release toxins that are so bad for us,” UCR Entomology Doctoral student Jessica Macaro said.

While bees eat meat, they also store honey in separate chambers in their hive.

“They store the meat in special chambers, which are closed for two weeks before accessing it, and these chambers are separate from storing the honey,” McCarro said.

The scientists hope that further study of these vulture bees could provide “rich insights” into how diet interacts with the gut microbiome.


Credit: /

- Advertisement -
Mail Us For  DMCA / Credit  Notice

Recent Articles

Stay on top - Get the daily news in your inbox

Related Stories